There’s a 95% Probability That This Is My Opinion

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October 24, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker

So, when you decide to be a Unitarian Minister, one of the things you have to do is go for a day and a half long meeting to do a lot of interviews and tests which they called a "Career Assessment".  It is certainly a vocational assessment, and it's also a test to see if you have significant mental health issues of the variety that would not be suitable for a Unitarian Clergyperson.  I really liked going for this test because 1) I got to talk about myself for a day and a half, and 2) Now when people call me crazy I can say "I am not, I've been tested!".

A third benefit of the Career Assessment (one that you are supposed to care more about than either 1 or 2) is that you get useful feedback for your development into ministry.  Which I did.  I only scored high on two potentially concerning traits.  One was the "Pollyanna syndrome", and the other was "Psychopathic Deviance".  Psychopathic Deviance means much questioning of authority and failing to follow social norms simply because they are social norms.  Which is okay, because that is exactly the right kind of mental health issue for a Unitarian Clergyperson.  "Pollyanna syndrome" is the trait of seeing the world as much better than it is.  I know why I scored high–there were questions like "I think that most people want to do the right thing–True or False?"

"You score as seeing the world as a very good place–a bit naive." says the guy.

"It's not naivety," says me, "It's research.  For example, someone dropped wallets with 100 dollars in them in major cities across the continent, and 70% of those were returned with the money in them.  That's most people doing the right thing, empirically.  We think that being "realistic" make life's pains easier to deal with.  But there's little evidence that pessimism makes tragedy easier to deal with–and besides that, pessimism is inaccurate.  The actual amount of tragedy is highly exaggerated by the media, and we have to use reason in choosing what to believe.  And direct experience.  I have personally had enough lost wallets returned to make me convinced in the inherent morality of the average person.  I would like to see some evidence of the accuracy of the baseline assumptions of your test before I am willing to accept the results."

"Also, you score high on questioning authority." says the guy.

Pause.  I wanted to argue that point, too, but it seemed like it would be counterproductive.

"But, you're planning to be a Unitarian minister, right?" says the guy.  "You should be okay."  (I swear, those were his exact words).

It's a funny thing, cynicism.  We equate it with a realistic assessment of the world–with the unspoken assumption that to be realistic is to see great tragedy everywhere.  While it's certainly true that a realist would refuse to accept a worldview of goodness everywhere, a worldview of evil everywhere is equally unrealistic.  We can easily call to mind stories of millions of people murdered.  Yet, if we think about it for a moment, we can also easily call to mind stories of millions of people saved.  These stories–stories of public health workers, environmentalists, and policy makers–don't stick in our minds nearly as clearly.  And that fact alone–how common place and unremarkable it is to us that a person would work to save lives–is a cause for hope.

I'm not saying that the world isn't filled with evil–just that it's filled with good, too.  And that if we're going to call ourselves rational, we have to hold both in our hearts simultaneously.  I try to teach my kids to do that–to use science and reason to assess not only assertions that things are "all fine", but also that things are "all not-fine".  Through the use of reason and the scientific method, my children will learn to shield themselves from the perils of group think.

"Mommmmmm!"  Eric yelled yesterday, "Anthony said the streetlight is pretty close to the car and I said it's not.  Tell him I'm right."

"The streetlight is close to the car!!!!" yells Anthony, "It's a scientific fact!!!"

"It is not a scientific fact!"  Eric insists.  "Mom, is it?"
And I realize all of a sudden that Eric believes that there is a list somewhere of all the irrefutable scientific facts.  He doesn't just believe it–he has observed it.  Scientifically.  This sacred list can be called up by anyone with access to an internet search engine who knows the magical summoning word… "Wikipedia"…
70% of people are good.  It's a scientific fact.  I'm 95% sure of it.

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